WASHINGTON — Fewer Army recruits are now dropping out of initial military training, preventing the Army from wasting millions in training dollars, said the Army’s senior enlisted advisor.
The results, officials say, show that the Occupational Physical Assessment Test is better preparing new recruits for the physical rigors of training they will face once they step off the bus and are greeted by drill sergeants.
“That was the goal,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. “The goal was to get 18- to 24-year-old people more focused on physical fitness instead of showing up on Day 1 of basic training, and saying, ‘Oh my god, I have to do a pushup.'”
Given to recruits to determine their best-fit career field in the Army, OPAT measures muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, explosive power and speed. Current Soldiers who decide to reclass to more physically demanding jobs are also required to take the test.
The gender and age neutral test includes four events — a standing long jump, seated power throw, deadlift and interval run — that gauge a recruit’s physical aptitude similar to how the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, assesses mental aptitude.
“OPAT, obviously, is increasing our capability,” Dailey said Monday at a media roundtable inside the Pentagon. “There was no physical assessment prior to OPAT.”
Since January 2017, when the OPAT test was first rolled out to recruiting stations, the Army has seen an average of about 1,000 fewer trainees leave initial military training early. That’s about equal to a 10 percent overall reduction in attrition.
“We’re saving over 1,000 [trainees] a year,” said Michael McGurk, director of research and analysis at the Army Center for Initial Military Training. Many trainees who drop out, he added, experience some sort of musculoskeletal issue.
It costs between $55,000 to $74,000 to send a recruit through training, depending on if they attend one-station unit training or a combination of basic combat training and advanced individual training.
McGurk said his center uses $50,000 as a general figure for a trainee who fails to complete the training. Using that number, cost avoidance for the Army could be $50 million or more each year.
“We think that’s on the low end,” he said Thursday. “It’s not savings, it’s [cost] avoidance, because no one hands you a check for that money. It’s the car that didn’t break down, the water heater that didn’t explode.”
As more and more recruits train for the OPAT, scores have also gone up.
When Dailey travels to speak with high school students, he notices that many of them are already aware of it.
“The scores on OPAT are getting better and that is simply because the greater population that is propensed to serve in the military know about it and now they’re training for it,” he said.
The test is changing how people think about the Army before they sign up, according to McGurk.
“It’s not I’m going to join the Army and get in shape; it’s I need to get in shape so I can join the Army,” he said. “That’s the mindset we’re trying to instill in young people. Before you go to training, you’re going to have to get in shape. And that’s a good thing for everybody.”
The test, along with other efforts, is intended to help boost readiness in the Army as it shapes a future fighting force.
Earlier this month, senior leaders outlined what the Army should focus on over the next decade to retain overmatch against potential adversaries. In the 2028 vision statement, signed by the Army’s secretary and chief of staff, one of the key objectives is to grow the regular Army above 500,000 Soldiers with associated growth in the National Guard and Army Reserve.
The Army plans to do this by “recruiting and retaining high quality, physically fit, mentally tough Soldiers who can deploy, fight, and win decisively on any future battlefield,” the statement reads.
As part of the Army’s renewed focus on fitness, leaders have developed a new Army Combat Readiness Test that has been piloted at several installations. The six-event assessment gauges Soldiers on the 10 components of physical fitness — muscular strength and endurance, power, speed, agility, aerobic endurance, balance, flexibility, coordination and reaction time.
The new test, which relies heavily on functional fitness, is designed to reduce injuries and may eventually replace or supplement the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test. That test has been around since 1980 and only measures muscular and aerobic endurance.
On Monday, the Army also announced a pilot to extend one-station unit training, or OSUT, for infantry Soldiers from 14 weeks to 22 weeks.
The pilot, which runs from July to December, will allow Soldiers to get more training sessions in on weapons, combatives and combat-lifesaver skills. It also includes additional time for physical fitness.
“We know if we have more time with Soldiers, we can make them more physically capable,” Dailey said.
If the results are positive, the OSUT pilot could even convince senior leaders to make basic combat training longer for all Soldiers, he added.
“We know we can do better,” he said. “We want to get our Soldiers more capable. We want to give those units receiving these young men and women a better product.”
At the core of all these efforts is a desire to ensure Soldiers are healthy, trained and ready for when their call comes.
“[Non-deployable personnel] is something that we have to get after and you can’t just do it from a policy or discipline perspective,” Dailey said. “You have to do it preemptive; you have to get after it before it occurs.”
Pictured above: Soldiers administer the strength deadlift event of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test to a potential recruit. Since January 2017, when OPAT was rolled out to recruiting stations, officials believe the test has significantly reduced attrition among trainees and as a result has prevented the Army from wasting millions of training dollars.